"Too many Bothy Ballads can get gloomy," Iona Fyfe sympathetically tells the audience, before going ‘uptempo’. She and her band, the fiddler Charlie and guitarist Aidan, knock out a good few tunes, mostly in the Doric dialect of North-East Scotland. This is the first album for this traditional folk singer, and has been two years in the making for the student of music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
The band are all in their early 20s but have the confidence of those who really know their stuff, as Iona was born into a musical family and admits to having been hearing and participating in the traditional music of Aberdeenshire all her life. This confidence, quality and lineage makes for a shining light, and Iona, at only 21, may be a future name to watch out for. They are now on tour, with only two dates in the south of England; last night in London, now in Oxford, before moving north through Northumberland and back to Scotland.
The Holywell Music Room lent itself well to the folk trio and their support band, the local group ‘Owl Light Trio’, with its lovely acoustics and lighting. There was only one hitch: when the band did some (non-gloomy) highland music, I really wanted a drink, and this being Europe’s oldest purpose built music venue, there is no bar! I got the feeling the entire audience wanted to escape to the King’s Arms in the interval, but it is, alas, too short. Iona admits on stage that the band, ten days into touring, are already feeling the worse for wear, for being a trad Scots band does mean getting bought drinks at the bar, and having a ‘wee dram’ of this or that. But this doesn’t diminish the luminosity of her voice or the quality of the music. And one of her best song arrangements is titled ‘Take Me Out Drinking’. A great night out, but as they might say in Aberdeen, a dry one!